The JFK Assassination coverup

I submitted the following to the Skeptics.SE site in response to the question Is there any merit to the claim that John F Kennedy was accidentally shot by a secret service agent?. It was, not surprisingly, rejected.

This claim seems to have more merit than any of the other explanations.

The others leave one wondering "But what about …?". This one leaves one thinking "So that's why …!".

There are many theories about what happened that day, and most involve conspiracies. The one thing they almost all have in common is that the theories seem to be constructed and shaped to fit the known facts, with additional speculated details being added ad hoc to handle apparent discrepancies.

The Secret Service conspiracy doesn't match that pattern, and really should be considered seriously. Very little speculation is involved, and even without trying to, it ends up answering many of the unanswered or unusual aspects of this event. Abductive reasoning makes the few unprovable facts easy to accept as the most reasonable explanation.

Official Report

The first and most obvious conspiracy (fact, not theory) was the Warren Report itself. The Cold War was at its height and America had to not only preserve its image, but had to avoid any increase in international tensions.

The public view of what happened could not be allowed to include an organization conspiring to assassinate the president, especially if all but one of its members were still walking free and unknown. That a president could be killed by a madman had to be accepted, it had happened after-all, but the perception of America as having a democratically elected government had to be maintained. Assassination is not a part of American politics.

The international situation could not be allowed to get worse by revealing Oswald's relationship with the Russians and Cubans (e.g. a month before the assassination, Oswald had visited both the Cuban and Russian embassies in Mexico, a fact that the Warren Report (page 777) dismissed as Oswald's desire to emmigrate to the USSR). WWI had started with a political assassination, and in 1963, the world was on the brink of WWIII.

Warren Commission member John J. McCloy later stated:

It was important to show the world that America is not a banana republic, where a government can be changed by conspiracy.

Following Oswald's death, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, wrote:

There is nothing further on the Oswald case except that he is dead. … The thing I am concerned about, and so is [Deputy Attorney General] Mr. Katzenbach, is having something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin. … the public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who are still at large; and that evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial.

The Warren Report was based on very selective evidence. Witnesses whose statements supported the official lone gunman theory were re-interviewed and their testimony sent to the Committee; those whose statements didn't support it were ignored.

Once the shock of the events had worn off, that the report was a whitewash became very evident to the public. It became what would today be called a meme. When standup comedian Woody Allen said:

I was writing and I needed to be free, creative. I was working on a non-fiction version of the Warren report.

everyone got the joke.

Evidence

The second and most obvious actual conspiracy was what happened immediately following the assassination.

Official procedure wasn't followed, and evidence was badly handled.

It's not possible to attribute these and other unusual events to simple incompetence. There was definitely a conspiracy on the part of government agencies, especially the Secret Service, to control the evidence.

Referring to the JFK autopsy, Dr. Milton Helpern, leading US forensic pathologist in 1963 said:

Selecting a hospital pathologist to perform a medico-legal autopsy … and evaluate gunshot wounds is like sending a seven year old boy who has taken three lessons on the violin over to the New York Philharmonic and expect him to perform a Tchaikovsky symphony. He knows how to hold the violin and the bow, but he has a long way to go before he can make music.

Discrepancies

It soon became apparent that the Warren Report did not accurately represent what had actually happened. There were far too many discrepancies, and far too many facts that the Commission hadn't even considered, some of the most obvious being:

The bullets:

The shooting:

What happened (according to the official version):

It's difficult to reconcile the facts with the official version:

Oswald:

His behaviour is not that of someone that has just killed the President. There's little question that Oswald fired at JFK, but his behaviour implies that he knew that he himself didn't fire the fatal shot.

Interview notes

Government:

In the decades since, several government commissions have re-investigated the assassination. Though hesitant to assign blame, all have found serious inadequacies in the original Warren Report.

Discussion

The two things we can be relatively sure of are that Oswald did not fire the fatal shot, and that there was a government cover-up.

The details above are commonly known and are part of most JFK assassination conspiracy theories. These, and many other factors, provide just too many discrepancies and unanswered questions for the public to accept the official version. It's natural that people would feel unsatisfied and want a story that answers the questions and ties up the loose ends.

Despite being considered a popular president, JFK had many enemies.

Even LBJ himself was seen as gaining by JFK's assassination.

It was easy for the public to want one of these (or others) to be the real reason for JFK's death. A senseless killing is frustrating. Losing one's president to a madman just felt wrong, and there was mounting evidence that this official explanation was seriously incomplete.

People wanted there to be a conspiracy behind the assassination, and so they ended up with not one, but dozens of conspiracy theories to choose from.

But these theories tended to be fabricated, constructing a story based on explanations of a subset of the discrepancies and unexplained questions. Some correctly recognized that Oswald didn't fire the fatal shot, but they have to introduce unknown people on the grassy knoll, people for whom there is no evidence they ever existed. Strawman arguments are set up (e.g. "magic bullet") in order to "prove" the existence of these contrived people. Everything related to these ad hoc fabricated people is purely speculation, not logical reasoning.

These theories use the problems as their basis, and as a result, for the most part, they are as unsatisfying as the Warren Report.

What is needed is a simple explanation based on evidence and reason, one that naturally resolves the issues as a side effect, not as a goal.

Additional Facts

A photograph taken during an FBI re-enactment of the assassination was later discovered to contain an interesting detail. As the President's car passed the Book Depository, it passed under a set of traffic lights:

lights above car

From Oswald's point of view:

hole in backplate

one can see a hole in the metal backplate of the traffic light that would have come into Oswald's line of fire. (Photos from http://www.kbrhorse.net/signals/eagle03a.html)

Most of the team of Secret Service agents that rode in the car immediately following the President's car had stayed up drinking until 3 or 4 in the morning, and by the time they were escorting the President, most were hung over or still drunk. This breach of regulations was downplayed, but the agents were reprimanded by the Warren Commission for their conduct the night before the assassination.

Chief Eowley testified that under ordinary circumstances he would have taken disciplinary action against those agents who had been drinking in clear violation of the regulation. However, he felt that any disciplinary action might have given rise to an inference that the violation of the regulation had contributed to the tragic events of November 22. — Warren Report, page 451.

The most junior agent, George Hickey, wasn't considered "one of the boys" yet, and so hadn't participated. He normally handled the menial duties, and after a good night's sleep he got up early and prepared the car, making sure it was clean and spotless. As a result, this least qualified and least experienced agent assumed the critical lookout position, sitting on the back of the rear seat of the convertible with a 5.56mm AR15 assault rifle out of sight at his feet.

Possible Sequence of Events

Oswald:

Hickey:

Conspiracy:

This is where the real conspiracy begins. It doesn't matter whether Oswald himself was involved in a conspiracy; perhaps he was, perhaps not. But the Secret Service had a serious problem, and they needed to do something about it fast. The mission of the Secret Service is to protect the President, yet they themselves had accidentally killed him. Fortunately, very few people knew this. The truth was known by the agents in the car (perhaps not all of them), and by a line of superiors, but likely by no one else.

It soon became apparent that everyone had been watching the President and no one had seen what had really happened. It also didn't take long for the police to determine that Oswald was the prime suspect.

This was a time when most police forces worked by deciding on a suspect and then putting their efforts into finding evidence that would provide a conviction in court. The Secret Service had no trouble encouraging the investigators to concentrate on evidence that would convict Oswald.

For political reasons mentioned earlier, other branches of government also wanted the situation to be resolved as quickly and as simply as possible. The Secret Service ended up being asked by other government agencies to help cover up anything not blaming Oswald. This is exactly what they needed, and very few people within the Service ever needed to know what had really happened.

Any evidence not related to Oswald was suppressed or ignored. The FBI, the Warren Commission, and everyone concerned already wanted Oswald to be the lone gunman, with no one else involved to complicate the situation, so those people in the Secret Service that knew the truth had no trouble making sure things went in the right direction.